A part of Older Crawley

This recalls a visit made in 2009.

Crawley was my home town when I was a child. True, we actually lived in Ifield which was an ancient village and the town of Crawley was a couple of miles away. But reality was, that with the coming of the New Town, Ifield became a neighbourhood of Crawley with hundreds of brand spanking new homes, new shops and schools and churches, adding to the scattered village.

I recall, each week, a cycle ride to Crawley. When I was very young this was a cycle ride on the back seat of my mum’s bike. I think of it as just me and my mum, so I suppose I’m remembering 1952 when my sister and brother would already have been at school and I was the spoilt brat getting that full and lovely attention of my mum. It was a very happy time in my life.

On arrival at Crawley, we usually had to go to the bank. This was Lloyds Bank and it was sited very near to Crawley Railway Station, the level crossing, the signal box and the pedestrian underpass – all places that most 4 year old boys would love. It seems it is normal for young boys to love trains. Some of us never grow up, so I’ll start this tour with a present day train about to cross the level crossing at Crawley.

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The subway went under the track roughly where the cattle grid is now (photo of new train). Pedestrians didn’t need to wait whilst the gates were shut then. I liked seeing trains, but also loved hearing them pass over head when I was in the subway.

Standing sentinel over it all was the signal box. Amazingly, this survives as a functionless relic of earlier times when semaphore signals were pulled off by a strong person manhandling levers in the box. But best of all, he had a giant wheel to turn to open and shut the level crossing gates. In those days the gates shut off the railway when road traffic could pass, so there was no need for a cattle grid. Winding that wheel was a job I really wanted. It looked such a perfect thing to do to me – so much better than at the level crossing by Ifield Station where the man had to walk out to the gates to open and shut them.

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Anyway, here’s the box at Crawley, as it is.

The present gate is barrier style and only closes off the road when dropped. Hence the need for those cattle grids. There’s a 750 volt third rail ready to kill any stray animals that get on the line.

The station used to start immediately off the level crossing, but with the coming of the new town, a new station was built 200 yards or so to the east.

Now we’d come to this area to go to Lloyds Bank, the first building on the west side of the Brighton Road after the signal box, with just little Springfield Road, parallel to the railway, in between. Here’s the bank – the building with its verdigris topped cupola. You can see the signal box as well.

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There’s a sign visible pointing to Stanley Ball’s off-license. I won’t say this was much used by my family, but my dad liked a little bit of cider and it came from there. I liked visiting. The place had a distinctive smell – not of alcohol but more of damp wood, I think. I have no childhood memory of a Bank Terrace, but at least it serves as a reminder that this was, once, a bank.

Nearly next door is the old Imperial Cinema.

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Now I never knew this as a cinema – it had a limited life. Originally built in 1911, it burned down and this rebuild, as you see, dates from 1928. How long it stayed a cinema, I do not know, but at some point it became an auction room and my mum loved going to it and buying bargains. How about a refrigerator which didn’t work, as an example. (Is collecting old junk a genetic trait?) We kept it for years as a kitchen cupboard. The cat learned the noise of its door and would come running if it heard it, thinking it might be food time. I must have been young, for I didn’t understand auctions and couldn’t work out why we had to wait so long. I wanted to just buy the item and be gone, for I was spoiled and a currant bun, priced at a penny, was often the last thing bought before the journey home. If I worked at it, I recall getting two such items because that made one for each hand. The old Imperial Cinema has been a car showroom for years now.

Just opposite the Imperial was a shop which became important to me in my early teen years – the 1960s. This shop, as is, can be seen below.

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In my day, or rather when this shop was important to me, this was an antiques shop called James – the first name of the owner. But we always called it Sid’s after the well known comedian, Sid James. The odd thing was that a lady called Honor Edwards worked as a shop assistant to James. Her brother in law was the well known comedian, Jimmy Edwards so we obviously felt that the shop had a comedic air. If you wandered through the classy items and out to the back, you came to a place where the old records were kept. And by old, I mean old. Our penchant was for 1920s dance band music but we’d give anything a spin on our wind up gramophones back at home. Part of the reason for this strange habit was a degree of poverty. At Sid’s you could buy a record for 6d (2.5p) whereas a new pop record was something like 7/- or 35p. But we also had a desire to prove our difference from other people – it was image building in a way. Of course, the image was no good, for having bought our records, we went to meet friends in the main part of the town. The girls never seemed very impressed with us!

Just along Brighton Road was a little door which led to my first doctor’s surgery.

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It doesn’t look very prepossessing these days. If lucky, we met Doctor Collier. Everybody seemed to be in awe of elderly Doctor Knight although I recall being well impressed when a plane crashed on its approach to Gatwick. Amongst the many survivors was the prime minister of Turkey and Doctor Knight – my doctor – treated this truly important personage.

One of the reasons for this particular walk was to go along a side turn off the Brighton Road – along Malthouse Road.

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In the 1920s my Great Aunt Mercy lived there and there are pictures of my dad there – a sort of first family link with Crawley. (Actually, I had older relatives, surnamed Peirce, who lived in Crawley before Aunt Mercy, but I knew my Aunt Mercy. And here she is with two of her children and my dad (the little one) in the garden at Malthouse Road. This picture must date from about 1924.

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This is Malthouse Road.

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Just what would Mercy have thought of this scene. There were cars when she lived there, but the ordinary folks in these houses wouldn’t have had them. I daresay there would have been electricity, probably delivered via overhead wires, but TV aerials, and space age satellite dishes would have been science fiction dreams. There’d have been huge changes. Yet the basic structure of this part of the road must be much as it was then. Mercy might have struggled with the view in the back garden, for a new town has been built and instead of distant trees, Mercy would now have a view of fairly close houses.

 

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3 Responses to “A part of Older Crawley”

  1. Pete Says:

    Interesting re: the barriers that close off the railway line when the road is open. I’ve seen some of them more recently, but I think they were manually operated – on the lines either between Nottingham and Newark or Nottingham and Grantham. Not sure whether it was the first or second time I was studying in Nottingham, so could have been nearly two decades ago!

    • locksands Says:

      Of course, if a train weighing hundreds of tons hit the gates they were smashed to smithereens. I shudder to imagine what would have happened to the winding wheel in the signal box.

  2. sed30 Says:

    Reblogged this on sed30's Blog and commented:
    Memories of Crawley

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